The Power of Time

The Power of Time

Introduction

The power to control time and bend it to ones will is one of the most potentially overpowered abilities found in any medium, including anime. And yet, the ability to control time is one of the most popular powers.

Why is time control so popular, and how do writers keep it from becoming the overpowered ability it has the potential to be? To answer these questions, I’ll be breaking down time control into two separate (but not mutually exclusive) types of time control: freezing time and resetting time.

Freezing Time

The ability to freeze time for everything and everyone other than oneself is what I consider to be the lower level of time control (resetting time being the higher level). The reason for this is because while it does give the user an advantage, it’s not the ultimate trump card that resetting time is.

Three characters who have the ability to freeze time are DIO, Homura Akemi, and Sailor Pluto, from JoJo’s Bizarre AdventureMadoka Magica, and Sailor Moon respectively. Since freezing time is DIO’s only time bending power, we’ll start with him.

DIO, from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, has the ability to freeze time for up to seven seconds (I believe that’s the amount). While this may not seem like much of a power, this time-stop gives him the ability to navigate around and out maneuver his opponents.

In fact, his ability was so overpowered, even with its limited duration, that Jotaro’s stand, Star Platinum, had to develop a previously unknown time freeze ability of its own just to stop DIO and The World. From this we can infer that even when a limit is placed on freezing time, it’s still too strong of an ability.

So if that’s the case, then how does Madoka Magica solve this issue with its time bending character, Homura Akemi? As with DIO, Homura also has a limit on the duration of her time freeze ability, but I don’t remember it ever being explicitly explained. In her case, it takes up magic and she only has a set amount.

But as we’ve already established, putting a limit on the duration of a time freeze isn’t enough to make it manageable for opponents. In Homura’s case, the key to balancing her time freeze power lies in a related ability: time doesn’t freeze for anything she’s directly touching.

This ability can be useful in cases where she wants to freeze time for everyone other than herself or an ally, but on the other hand, her opponents can use this ability to their advantage as we see in her fight against Mami Tomoe in the Rebellion movie. By touching Homura, an opponent can effectively render her time freeze useless.

The third character with a time freeze ability, Sailor Pluto from Sailor Moon, is a bit different than the previous two. As someone who isn’t meant to be in direct combat, Sailor Pluto doesn’t use her time freeze in order to gain the upper hand in a fight, but rather to give herself time to come up with strategies (although she could fight using it).

However, more importantly, freezing time isn’t a defining ability of Sailor Pluto’s, it’s just one of many abilities she has as the guardian of time and space. Because of this, the balance for her time freeze ability is the same as the balance for all of her abilities: life outside the timeline.

Sailor Pluto’s abilities are completely overpowered, so to remedy this, she lives outside the timeline of the world on her own. If she rarely comes in contact with any opponents, she can’t really be considered overpowered. You could argue that she can always leave her post as the guardian of the space-time door, but then others would be able to steal her power and change the past or future.

DIO freezing time by using his stand, The World (from the anime JoJo's Bizarre Adventure)
DIO Freezing Time

Resetting Time

The ability to reset time has far wider consequences which is why I consider it to be the higher level version of a time-related ability. As the guardian of space and time, Sailor Pluto has this ability, but since I’ve already covered how she’s balanced, I’ll be skipping her in this section.

Some other characters with the ability to reset time, however, are Homura Akemi once again, Okabe Rintarou, Subaru Natsuki, and Yoshikage Kira from Madoka Magica, Steins;Gate, Re:ZERO, and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure respectively.

Although Homura has the ability to freeze time, her primary ability is resetting time, which she does thousands of times in order to attempt to save Madoka from becoming a magical girl. In her case, the ability to reset time is itself the balance for the ability.

When Homura resets time, there always has to be a reason for her doing so, which in this case happens to be saving Madoka. However, the reason Homura resets time is extremely important, because now the new timeline has a greater emphasis on that reason. If a new timeline was created specifically to save Madoka, Madoka is more important in it than in the previous timeline.

This means that no matter how many times Homura resets time, as long as it’s to save Madoka, it won’t work. The real reason for this is a bit complicated, but basically, the more important someone is in a timeline, the more potential energy they have, and therefore the incubators want them to become a magical girl even more.

Our next character, Okabe Rintarou from Steins;Gate is a little different from everyone else in this post in that his time control ability isn’t really an ability at all. Instead, Okabe uses the gadgets he and his lab members invented.

However, that doesn’t mean Okabe has no power over time. By using his inventions, he can essentially reset time in the same way any of these other characters can. While Okabe can change the past using his various inventions, there are certain events which cannot be changed.

This is because although changing the past moves him to an alternate timeline, there are certain events which all related timelines will converge to. Because of this, Okabe quickly learns that there is no way to make everyone happy by changing the past; fate will always come.

In Okabe’s case, the balance for his time resetting power is the knowledge that there is a trade-off for everything he changes in the past. If he wants one thing, he can’t have another, or even if he can have both, it means other people don’t get what they want. While this wouldn’t matter to someone like DIO, Okabe’s character traits make this balance his power.

Subaru Natsuki from Re:ZERO has the most unfortunate version of a time resetting ability out of all these characters. He has the ability to reset time to a specific point, but he isn’t able to choose the point time resets to, and it only activates upon his death.

Unlike the previous two characters, however, Subaru is able to reset time as often as he wants until he gets the outcome he was hoping for, but as I mentioned, this comes at a steep price. Dying isn’t something Subaru wants to do. It’s painful physically, mentally, and emotionally, which is the true balance for his power.

Mental and emotional breakdown is another symptom common to both Homura and Okabe, but the added physical pain of death for Subaru is what makes his ability to reset time stand apart.

Finally, we have Yoshikage Kira from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. While DIO was the first character to exhibit time-related abilities, Kira is not the last. In fact, in a future part of the series, there’s a character with the ability to fast forward through time.

Kira’s ability allows him to reset time whenever someone who knows his true identity is questioned about his identity. Thanks to this, he’s safe from anyone ever figuring out that he’s actually the serial killer they’re looking for.

But while this ability may seem perfect, it has one major flaw: time doesn’t reset if someone figures out his identity on their own. Kira’s downfall came after he was tricked into announcing his identity while one of the people hunting him was nearby.


Conclusion

So now that we’ve covered various types of time control abilities and different ways in which they’re balanced, let’s go back and take a look at the first part of the original question: why is time control so popular?

The answer appears to be that the ethical dilemmas surrounding time control. For an antagonist such as DIO, the ability to control time is one way for his character to show that he’s ascended beyond mankind. While this isn’t the exact same context for an antagonist like Kira, the ability to not be bound by time is intrinsically “evil.”

For antagonists, the ability to bend time to their will shows that they’re superior to the “good guys,” and that they feel the world revolves around them. On the other hand, for the aforementioned “good guys,” time control is a way for them to grow as characters.

Notice that time control never really works out in anyone’s favor (except maybe Jotaro’s). There’s always a price to pay for controlling time, and typically the “good guys,” like Homura or Okabe, don’t feel that the price is worth it in the end.

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